Sitting on a bar stool at the bar of Le Jockey, a classy nightclub in Montparnasse on the Left Bank of Paris, was Ernest Hemingway. African American musicians on stage were playing their saxophones, horns, and drums, while beautiful women danced along.
“One of those nights, I couldn’t take my eyes off a beautiful woman on the dance floor—tall, coffee skin, ebony eyes, long, seductive legs: Very hot night but she was wearing a black fur coat,” Hemingway recounts in A.E. Hotchner’s memoir Hemingway in Love: His Own Story.
“She was dancing with a big British army sergeant, but her eyes were on me as much as my eyes were on her. I got off my bar stool and cut in on the Brit who tried to shoulder me away but the woman left the Brit and slid over to me. The sergeant looked bullets at me. The woman and I introduced ourselves. Her name was Josephine Baker, an American, to my surprise. Said she was about to open at the Folies Bergère, that she’d just come from rehearsal.”
She told him the fur coat was because she had nothing else on underneath. The Brit followed them as they were leaving, exchanging words the entire way, and pulled Hemingway’s sleeve and slammed him against the wall. Hemingway dropped the burly Brit with his fist as the police whistles were sounding. Hemingway spent the night at Baker’s kitchen table, drinking champagne sent from an admirer. They talked all night, “mostly bullshit,” but also about love and their souls.
“Cruel vibes can offend the soul and send it on to a better place,” Baker told Hemingway. “You need some good stuff to happen in your life, Ernie, to rescue you with your soul.”
The American-born performer moved to France from a poverty-stricken home in St. Louis during the Roaring ’20s. Blacks in the United States weren’t welcomed as they were in Europe. The early success of Black entertainers can be credited to Harlem Hellfighter James Reese Europe, who introduced the jazz scene that would rumble across the continent during World War I.
Baker performed in the Harlem music-and-dance ensemble La Revue Nègre. She dressed in provocative outfits, including a skirt strung with bananas (and not much else), while on stage and gained a reputation for her comedic and silly style. Soon she became a star, entertaining open-minded white crowds under the stage name the “Creole Goddess.”
When the Germans invaded Paris in 1940 in the early years of World War II, Baker fled among thousands of others. The 34-year-old was in an interracial marriage with a French-Jewish sugar broker named Jean Lion. She was also openly bisexual and had frequent affairs with women. Had she not fled, she could have been the target of Nazi sympathizers.
She poured out champagne from several bottles and replaced it with gasoline to endure a 300-mile journey to her country estate, Chateau des Milandes. Here she harbored refugees fleeing the Nazis and was later approached by Jacques Abtey, the head of French counterintelligence, to join the French resistance.
“France made me what I am,” she told him. “I will be grateful forever. The people of Paris have given me everything. […] I am ready, captain, to give them my life. You can use me as you wish.”
And he did. She procured visas at her chateau for French resistance fighters and used her celebrity status to attend diplomatic functions held at the Italian embassy. Axis bureaucrats, diplomats, and spies spoke about the war, and she was nearby listening in. She collected intelligence on German troop movements and gathered insight into enemy-controlled harbors and airfields. She’d write notes on her arms and legs with confidence she wouldn’t undergo a strip search.
The Nazis paid her a visit, as they suspected she may have been involved in resistance activities. She charmed her way out of having them search her home, which was filled with hidden resistance fighters, but was spooked enough to contact Abtey to leave France. Gen. Charles de Gaulle instructed the pair to travel through neutral Lisbon, Portugal, to London. Between the two of them, they carried 50 classified documents, including Baker’s notes scribbled in invisible ink on her sheet music.
After the Allies liberated Paris, she returned to her beloved city wearing a French military uniform. De Gaulle awarded her the Croix de Guerre and the Rosette de la Résistance and named her a Chevalier de Légion d’honneur, the highest order of merit for military and civilian actions.
This war hero then became a vocal advocate against segregation and discrimination in the United States in the 1950s and ’60s.
“You know, friends, that I do not lie to you when I tell you I have walked into the palaces of kings and queens and into the houses of presidents,” she said in 1963 at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. “And much more. But I could not walk into a hotel in America and get a cup of coffee, and that made me mad.”
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) named May 20 Josephine Baker Day. She also had a family of adopted children she called her “rainbow tribe” to show that “children of different ethnicities and religions could still be brothers.”
Josephine Baker died on April 12, 1975, at age 68. She preached equality, lived with moxie, and inspired generations of not only Black Americans but all Americans to bring change where it was needed: “Surely the day will come when color means nothing more than the skin tone, when religion is seen uniquely as a way to speak one’s soul; when birth places have the weight of a throw of the dice and all men are born free, when understanding breeds love and brotherhood.”
The treaty states: “…each Party shall eliminate its intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles, not have such systems thereafter, and carry out the other obligations set forth in this Treaty.”
According to a report by the New York Times, Russia has operationally deployed one battalion equipped with the SSC-8 cruise missile. A 2015 Washington Free Beacon report noted that American intelligence officials assessed the missile’s range as falling within the scope of weapons prohibited by the INF Treaty (any ground-launched system with a range between 300 and 3,400 miles).
The blog ArmsControlWonk has estimated the SSC-8’s range to be between 2,000 and 2,500 kilometers (1,242 and 1,553 miles) based on the assumption it is a version of the SS-N-30A “Sizzler” cruise missile.
While it looks like the Russians could be holding onto some banned systems, the U.S. scrapped three systems falling under the INF Treaty.
1. The BGM-109G Gryphon cruise missile
Forget the name, this was really a ground-launched Tomahawk that was deployed by the Air Force. According to the website of the USAF Police Alumni Association, six wings of this missile were deployed to NATO in the 1980s. Designation-Systems.net noted that the BGM-109G had a range of 1,553 miles and carried a 200-kiloton W84 warhead.
2. The MGM-31A Pershing I and MGM-31B Pershing Ia ballistic missiles
The Pershing I packed one of the biggest punches of any American nuclear delivery system and could hit targets 740 miles away. With a W50 warhead and a yield of 400 kilotons (about 20 times that of the bomb used on Nagasaki), the Pershing Ia actually was too much bang for a tactical role, according to Designation-Systems.net.
According to GlobalSecurity.org, this missile had longer range (1,100 miles), and had a W85 warhead that had a yield of up to 50 kilotons. While only one-eighth as powerful as the warhead on the Pershing I and Pershing Ia, the Pershing II was quite accurate – and could ruin anyone’s day.
According to the State Department’s web site, all three of these systems were destroyed (with the exception of museum pieces) by the end of May, 1991.
Han-Ulrich Rudel was the kind of pilot that every soldier wants overhead. He was a close air support and dive bomber pilot who flew 3,500 combat missions and kept getting into the cockpit even after he was shot down 32 times and wounded five times.
Rudel began his career as a reconnaissance pilot in the Luftwaffe but entered dive bombing training as soon as he was allowed. After graduation in 1941, he was transferred to a Stuka dive bombing unit and flying in German blitzkrieg attacks. He would spend nearly all of his World War II career on Germany’s eastern front fighting the Soviets.
In Sep. 1941 he was sent against Soviet naval units and successfully sank the battleship Marat. In early 1943 he celebrated his 1,000 sortie. About a month later, in Apr. 1943, he took part in an attack against Soviet amphibious landing craft while flying a Ju-87. He sank 70 boats with the bird’s two 37mm cannons.
During the war, he pioneered a tactic where attack planes would hit the tanks from the rear. The primary benefit was that the planes could fire into the relatively thin armor over the tank’s engine, but it also meant that the planes were flying towards their own lines. That made it easier for pilots hit during an attack to make it back to friendly forces before bailing out.
Rudel’s willingness to fly low and slow to take out Soviet targets left him exposed to ground fire though, and he was shot down 32 times by anti-aircraft batteries. He was also wounded both on the ground and in the air.
His worst injury came while chasing a thirteenth tank kill in a fierce battle. After he fired off his final 37mm rounds, his right leg was shot off by anti-aircraft fire. Another pilot had to talk him through a crash landing and pull him out of the plane before he bled out.
Over his career, he destroyed 519 Soviet tanks, a battleship, a cruiser, a destroyer, 70 landing craft, and 11 airplanes. And he was famous for regularly landing and rescuing downed air crews. For his efforts, Rudel was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Golden Oak Leaves, Swords, and Diamonds, the second highest level of the Knight’s Cross. He was the only recipient of the award.
The only version of the award that was higher than Rudel’s was one specially made for Hermann Göring, and Göring basically got it for being head of the Luftwaffe, not for bravery.
For anyone who is feeling pretty good about Rudel and maybe hoping he was a Rommel-type German, the career military men who turned on Hitler when it became clear he was a monster, sorry. Rudel really was a hateful racist. He spoke out regularly in support of the Third Reich and was a member of a one of the most abhorrent German political parties from 1953 to his death in 1982.
Editor’s Note: This interview of Marine and Korean War veteran Charles U. Daly was written by his son, Charlie Daly.
Charles U. Daly led a rifle platoon in Charlie Company, 1/5 Marines through some of the most intense combat of the Korean war. He received the Silver Star and Purple Heart. He went on to work for President Kennedy and is the last living member of JFK’s West Wing congressional liaison staff. He tells his story in the memoir,Make Peace or Die: a Life of Service, Leadership, and Nightmares.
What are your memories of mail while you were deployed?
I remember the lack of mail hurt some of my Marines. That’s a tough thing when everyone else is receiving mail, and there’s none for you. The guys who didn’t get any were stoic, and they didn’t show that it bothered them. They just turned around and hoped to get some another day, I guess. It was my job to lead them and look after them; I could make sure they had almost anything else they needed. But there was nothing I could do for a guy who hadn’t gotten a letter from home. I’d give those men anything, but I couldn’t give them that.
Chuck remembers one letter he wrote to his late wife, Mary, in which he joked about single-handedly winning the war. A couple of days after he sent it, the Chinese began the 1951 Spring Offensive, an unsuccessful attempt to win the war in 7 days, during which Chuck’s platoon in 1/5 Marines had to hold a hilltop, totally cut off from friendly forces.
On the night of April 21, I sent a note to Mary, brimming with overconfidence:
Just a note to say that I’m o.k.—We moved quite a way today & continue on tomorrow—w/any luck we should be north of Hwachon (sic), North Korea tomorrow.
I’m exhausted & will hit the sack—I love you, my wife—take it easy.
(Make Peace or Die, 60)
You got one very special telegram announcing the birth of your first son, Michael.
I had been anxiously awaiting that news, but I didn’t expect it to reach me the way it did, as a special message, hand-delivered by a runner. That was a note I won’t forget.
A runner followed Dacy and the replacements up the hill with a telegram for me:
PLEASE PASS TO LT CHARLES U. DALY 050418 X SON MICHAEL WEIGHING 5 POUNDS 12 AND 3/4 OUNCES BORN SATURDAY 19 MAY AT 2:06 PM X A BLACK-HAIRED MICK X MARY AND MICHAEL BOTH FINE X LOVE MARY
(Make Peace or Die, 80)
Pete had received news about a baby daughter two days before. Our platoons were delighted. They said, “we” made a baby. It was good news, and it was tough news. I folded up the telegram and put it in my wallet and thought it’d be nice to have if I made it.
Now that note belongs to Michael’s first daughter, my first grandchild, Sinéad.
What was it like trying to do your job as a platoon leader while you were waiting for that big news?
I was trying to concentrate on my responsibility for Marines in combat. When I had time to think, I thought a lot about my wife and my hopes for our family. But I knew that if I didn’t concentrate on the job, I would never get to fulfill those hopes.
You wrote to your father after the firefight for which you were awarded the Silver Star.
I wanted him to know I’d done well. In case I didn’t make it, I wanted him to know I had died trying. He had led a platoon in the First World War; I suppose I wanted him to know that I understood something of his experience.
Shortly after my own war, I asked Dad, “When do the bad memories fade?”
“It will take a long, long time, but finally they will fade.”
As of today, mine have not.
(Make Peace or Die, 23)
A few weeks later, you finally got Michael’s picture in the mail.
That was good. I noticed the Heath chocolate bar in the envelope first. The photo was a big surprise. I wish I still had it, but it got ruined by the melted chocolate.
The platoon sergeant and I laid-up in an abandoned enemy bunker… An attack on our position that night could have doomed us, but it didn’t come. I felt good. Even though I still had little hope of living to hold my son, a picture Mary had sent me of him had arrived in a letter enclosed with a melted Heath bar. Having seen my son Michael’s face, I suddenly had more to lose.
(Make Peace or Die, 97.)
Nowadays, a Marine in the field can sometimes send texts or make video calls. Sometimes, you can even get in touch with your family via satellite from the most remote outpost.
I can’t even imagine that.
What would be your advice to families writing to a loved one who’s downrange?
Start with good news. Try to have good news. Bad news can wait, but if you have to pass it on, be delicate about it. Life at home isn’t always going to be all lovely every day, but it helps to let your son or daughter or spouse know that everything’s alright and there’s no need to feel bad about not being home to deal with life’s little challenges. But I don’t think it’s possible to say the wrong thing. No matter what you write, your letter is going to be the bright spot in their day.
My one suggestion, based on experience: SAVE YOUR LETTERS! When we were working on my book, we managed to find a couple of my letters home, but most were lost to time. I don’t remember what I wrote.
Garlin Conner charged alone into the cold abyss, toward the massive silhouettes of German tanks in the distance.
Clutching a telephone, radio and wire, the first lieutenant carried himself through the frigid January air, toward 600 encroaching Germans and the enemy rounds he knew were coming.
Conner could not turn back if he wanted to.
His company needed a guide to cut into the surging German infantry or risk getting overrun. The Kentucky marksman always fought in front of his men, and his fellow soldiers trusted him to lead. Conner often fired at the opposition standing while others ducked for cover.
Conner could see the enemy before they spotted him, fellow soldiers wrote.
The thunder of the German rifles didn’t rattle him. His father had raised him to be fearless while hunting wild game in the woods of southern Kentucky. A bullet wound in his left hip could not keep him from returning to the front lines, nor could orders to remain at a military field hospital. On a frigid winter morning in 1945, Conner would once more put himself between his fellow soldiers and the onslaught of enemy fire.
This time, in a snow-covered forest, 5-foot-6-inch Conner faced the full brunt of German forces. On Jan. 24, the Nazi-led German army mounted a desperate surge to split American units near the French-German border.
Conner headed toward the flurry of bullets until he ducked into a shallow, snowy ditch.
Here in the frozen French countryside, amid rampant automatic fire, Conner would make what could be his final stand, guiding American artillery toward the German infantry. Here, Conner would remain until American forces stopped the Germans, or until a bullet stopped him.
When locals in the rural farming town of Albany, Kentucky, would ask Garlin “Murl” Conner about his time in World War II, he’d hush them quickly.
“I’d done what I had to do,” Conner said in soldier accounts, “and that’s all there is to it.”
After returning to Clinton County following the war and starting a tobacco farm, the decorated Army veteran decided he had seen enough of the world and the horrors of armed combat. Conner had found peace plowing fields in the shadows of the Appalachians.
Conner never boasted about his acts of bravery.
For more than 53 years until his death in 1998, he rarely spoke about the war again — not to his wife, Pauline, or even to a fellow soldier.
During the two decades since Conner died of complications related to heart and kidney failure, others took up the cause the farmer so adamantly declined. Former Army Green Beret Richard Chilton, with the support of seven retired generals, presented Conner’s bid for the Medal of Honor to the Army’s personnel records office.
The curious case of Conner, who held a war record so compelling that it rivals the accolades of the more famous veteran Audie Murphy, baffled those who knew him. In all, Conner spent more than 800 days on the front lines in World War II. He suffered seven combat wounds while earning four Silver Stars, three Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star, the French military decoration Croix de Guerre, and the Distinguished Service Cross.
And yet, in an effort to get Conner recognized with a Medal of Honor, Chilton and his team endured a difficult quest that spanned decades. A federal district court rejected Conner’s initial bid for the award. In the 2014 ruling, a federal judge in Kentucky told a heartbroken Pauline that she had not filed her husband’s paperwork in time.
Conner had for decades shied away from talk of the award, much like he avoided any conversation of his four years in the Army. Still, his family continued to cling to hope that one day Conner would earn the U.S. military’s highest distinction.
Old Kentucky home
A curving paved road leads to Murl and Pauline Conner’s red brick farmhouse wedged near the foothills of the Appalachians in southern Kentucky, two miles north of the Tennessee state line.
Blue skies hang over Albany’s green rolling landscape, as plowed fields seem to shine under the midday sun. Cardinals outside the one-story house chirp as a light wind sweeps by. This farm, cradled in the hilly terrain of Clinton County, hid the story of a man whose steely courage withstood the gravest circumstances.
Just footsteps down the road from the farm, Murl’s son Paul, and his wife Kathy, live in a modular home that was built to replace their home that had been destroyed by a tornado. Paul took over the farm after his father suffered a heart attack on a spring day in 1979.
He spent long hours planting tobacco plants before the farm transitioned into raising cattle as its primary product.
Born nine years after Conner returned from the war, Paul contrasts his dad in appearance. Burly and stout, he sports a much larger frame than his father, who had been thin and wiry, at 5-foot-6-inches tall, and weighing only 120 pounds during active duty.
Paul shares his father’s love of animals. And Paul raised his four children with the same grounded morals he learned from his father. Paul said his father offered sound advice that Paul would later instill in his children. “Be a man of your word,” Paul recalled his dad saying. “Do what you say. If you can’t fulfill a promise, don’t make it. Be mindful of people around you because everyone has feelings.”
In the family’s living room, Paul sits next to a black and white portrait of Murl as a young soldier, flanked by faded portraits of Paul’s children and grandchildren. Decorated with beige ceramic lamps, rustic wooden chairs and shelves, the room has changed little since Pauline and her husband moved into the home more than 50 years ago.
For decades the photo loomed over the room. As a boy, Paul occasionally would stare at the black and white picture in awe.
When he asked his father about his time in the Army, he’d receive the same cold response: “We went over there, we did what we had to do,” Paul recalled his father saying. “And it needs to stay over there.”
Paul grew up without knowing the full extent of his father’s achievements on the battlefield. And for the most part, so did Pauline.
Generations have passed since the soldier with only an eighth-grade education used wit and intelligence to thwart enemy advances. But buried in eyewitness accounts and in the testimonials of fellow soldiers, Conner’s heroic deeds remained etched in history, unknown to his family and many of Albany’s residents.
“I just thought he was a farmer and he did a little something in the war,” said Walton Haddix, a family friend of the Conners. “But he never would talk about it. He never mentioned anything he did in the military.”
Outside of his war medals, this 200-acre farm on the lower east end of Clinton County is Conner’s lasting legacy. The family purchased the plot of land in 1949, after the government bought the family’s previous farm to make way for the Wolf Creek Dam and Lake Cumberland Reservoir. With his time in service long behind him, Conner turned his attention to his farm and raising Paul.
He never boasted about his wartime achievements, telling his wife he didn’t want to appear to be bragging. After all, Conner’s five brothers also served in the military: four in World War II and one in the Korean War.
As a farmer, he took pride in working on his farm, where he could often be found in his long-sleeved khaki shirt, farmer’s billed cap and overalls, riding a tractor or teaching Paul how to grow tobacco from the soil.
But the war never truly left him. Sometimes, at night, Conner would wake, gripped with tension and reliving moments from the battlefield, said his wife. Instead of returning to bed, Conner would retreat to the family’s wooden porch, where he lingered for hours smoking cigarettes.
The episodes at times became so traumatic, Pauline declines to talk in detail about them. Pauline said her husband suffered symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder, an illness that had not yet been widely identified until the Vietnam War.
“If anyone had PTSD, it was Murl,” Pauline said.
Conner carried the burden internally, never voicing his anguish to his family. The last time Conner had spoken publicly about the war, it happened to be the same day Pauline laid eyes on her future husband for the first time.
A hero’s welcome
On a bright spring day in May 1945, the Wells family heard that a war hero, a native of Clinton County, would be returning after four years overseas.
The local American Legion post organized a parade in the town square to welcome back a war veteran whose bravery had townspeople talking. They traveled from surrounding counties, some by wagon. Others drove in by car, while some came on foot.
Garlin Murl Conner, a farmer’s son who voluntarily joined the Army in 1941, had come home from the war.
Pauline Wells, still in her teenage years, climbed into the back of the family’s horse-drawn wagon along with her two brothers, two sisters and her parents at the family’s farm in northern Clinton County. They drove the wagon along a dirt trail, 10 miles to the town square. The county’s schools dismissed classes early so students could attend the parade.
Pauline’s family learned that following the parade, Conner would be speaking to the crowd about the war. So townspeople crowded into the second floor of the old courthouse. Sergeant Alvin C. York, the most decorated soldier of the First World War, also attended, beginning what became a lifelong friendship with Conner. Pauline leaned onto the wooden bench in the back row to hear Conner speak.
“I was expecting a giant of a man,” Pauline said.
When Conner finally emerged before the crowd, his appearance stunned Pauline. Wearing his olive-colored military dress uniform, the lieutenant’s small stature underwhelmed the young Pauline. With narrow shoulders, and a slender frame, Conner hardly appeared like heroes in storybooks.
“That little wharf rat,” Pauline said to her mother, Tressie. “He couldn’t have done all the things they said he’d done.”
But unbeknownst to Pauline and her family, Conner had long proved his mettle to U.S. forces, the Allies, and fellow soldiers, his commanding officer would say.
Conner was a quiet man of few words. The native of nearby Aaron, Kentucky, stood before the crowded courtroom and said what would be his last public statements about his time in the war.
“It gives me great pleasure,” Conner began, “to be able to come out here today. I am not a speaker, and did not come here to make a speech.”
“But,” Conner continued, “I will try to explain to you a small part of the war in Europe and some of the things I saw.”
Conner didn’t mince words. He talked first about the early November morning in 1942 when his unit first landed on the shore of Fedala, Morocco, in support of Operation Torch. American and Allied forces wrested control of North Africa from the Axis powers in only three days.
He moved onto the invasion of Licata, Sicily, a war-ravaged city that lay in tatters after 38 days of continuous fighting. Through his 10-minute testimony, Conner didn’t talk about his medals, or the times he fought on the front lines ahead of his men. Instead he spoke of his unit’s achievements, and how they survived the changing elements and terrain.
Finally, Conner touched on his unit’s trek into southern France and a difficult battle in the foothills of the Vosges Mountains. But he didn’t say a word about any of his selfless, valorous acts. Nor did he mention a fateful January morning near a small French village during the aftermath of the Battle of the Bulge, when for three hours in the winter of 1945, he risked his life so his unit could survive.
At any cost
On the morning of Jan. 24, 1945, the men of the K Company, 7th Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division entered the Brunwald Woods near Houssen, France.
As U.S. troops scrambled to reinforce their position in the small village near the German-French border, a bitter cold swept over eastern France, creating a stinging chill.
As the frigid wind stung their faces, K Company’s soldiers marched into the snow to take on a Battalion of desperate German soldiers.
Conner had rejoined his unit in the French countryside while still recovering from a sniper bullet wound in his left hip. Conner, knowing a crucial battle loomed, had earlier slipped out of the field hospital in northern France and returned to the front lines.
Upon his return, Conner learned that his commanding officer, Lt. Col. Lloyd Ramsey, had made arrangements to send him home. Conner had earned eligibility to return to Kentucky based on his time served and accolades earned. Ramsey removed Conner from the front lines and reassigned him to serve as his intelligence officer in battalion headquarters for his own safety.
Hitler’s army, facing looming defeat, countered American forces with desperate barrage after barrage, attacking U.S. forces with ruthless resolve. The German assaults gravely concerned Ramsey. The day before, the Germans had rallied for a fierce offensive against another company, costing the Americans 25 men.
Ramsey needed a patrol team to scout the enemy’s position, but resources ran thin.
Conner, still ailing from his hip injury, once again volunteered to take a patrol and said he would attempt to use direct artillery to halt the German offensive. Ramsey, knowing the weight of Conner’s previous contributions and his pending return home, reluctantly agreed.
“No words can express the outstanding leadership qualities that Lt. Conner had,” the late Ramsey wrote. “(He was) always willing to do more than his part.”
Conner had built a reputation as an expert scout and marksman. The soldier from the Bluegrass State had earned the respect of his fellow soldiers by fearlessly confronting the enemy and taking dangerous missions. Maurice Williams, a soldier who served under Conner, said Conner’s background as a Kentucky outdoorsman helped prepare him to go undetected in combat. Raised on a farm during the Depression era, Conner learned to become a skilled marksman and hunter.
“He could go through the woods unnoticed,” Haddix, the family friend, said. “And if a squirrel (was) in a tree somewhere and move its tail, he could see it.”
While other soldiers would go on night scouting missions with team members, Conner operated alone.
Conner had fostered such a respect from his fellow soldiers, and had performed with such distinction, that he earned a battlefield commission at Anzio. Conner, along with the highly-decorated Murphy, both served in the 3rd Infantry Division, which suffered more casualties than any other during World War II.
“He always led from the front,” wrote Williams, who fought alongside Conner earlier in the war. “And his platoon felt safe following him.”
At about 8 a.m. on Jan. 24, a sudden barrage of light artillery swept on the American troops. Six German Panzer tanks emerged from the frigid air, flanked by a battalion of 600 German soldiers descending on K Company. The powerful, 9-foot tall tanks nearly spanned 27 feet across and 12 feet wide.
“The Americans, the Allies, had nothing like it,” said Luther Conner, President of Clinton County’s historical society. “It was the most potent war weapon at that time. It was just a monster. It caused fear just for a soldier to see the size of it.”
Two thirds of the battalion pushed toward K Company, attempting to split and divide the Americans. A week earlier, a German Panzer division attacked Second Battalion’s 600 soldiers. About 100 returned to their units. Germans killed or took the remainder as prisoners.
Near Houssen, K Company faced similar odds. Conner knew his unit’s only chance in the wintry conditions rested in his hands. He needed to guide artillery fire on the Germans.
Conner saw the towering frames of German Panzers barrelling through the forest. Without a moment’s hesitation, the soldier sprinted straight toward tanks, carrying a telephone, radio, and wire reel.
Conner uncoiled the wire as exploding shells and wood splinters from the surrounding woods showered upon him. Conner ran nearly 400 yards toward the enemy, ignoring warnings from his unit, said Chilton.
He did not stop until he had advanced 30 yards past the American Infantry front line.
There, in a shallow ditch beneath the January snow, Conner planted himself before the oncoming German fire. And for three hours, Conner laid like immovable rock under a violent wave, directing artillery rounds onto the German infantry. As swarm after swarm of German soldiers came like an avalanche upon him, Conner, barked directions and coordinates to battalion headquarters.
“Although he was in a prone position, the ditch only covered part of his body,” wrote 1st Lt. Harold Wigetman, who served as the S-3 in 3rd Battalion. “He was wedged in there so tight, that it was almost impossible for him to move or shift his position.”
The Germans soon grew aware of the lone figure in the snow guiding the American artillery. German soldiers began to swarm and surround Conner and the Americans. The German army mounted a final surge to overwhelm the American forces.
Conner, seeing the enemy close, made a lasting, drastic choice to defeat the German infantry.
Conner directed American artillery rounds toward his position, and the surrounding Germans. As the enemy attack continued to unfurl, Conner put himself in peril so that his unit could achieve victory.
“He cared about his men more than he cared about himself,” Chilton said.
With bullets flying toward him from both directions, Conner never wavered. At one point, a German soldier ran within five yards of Conner clutching a grenade before an American stopped him. Haddix said Conner dispatched German soldiers with his submachine gun.
“With icy self-control, he kept telephoning his directions,” Wigetman wrote, “although he must have seen that the (Germans) would have killed him before he could get on his feet.”
The American onslaught led by Conner overwhelmed the German attack. By the time the final rounds fell, Conner’s actions had resulted in killing 50 German soldiers and leaving more than 150 wounded. American munitions destroyed the six German tanks.
“I saw elements waver … their fighting spirit broken by the deadly concentration of (American) fire,” Wigetman wrote.
Conner paid a heavy toll for his valor during the war. The injury to his left hip would hamper his mobility for the rest of his life. Like many veterans of his generation, Conner did not think highly of anything he had achieved in Europe, his wife said.
“He was always very humble,” Pauline said. “He did what he felt like he had to do to protect our freedom to vote and our freedom of speech, which we have truly earned from what he did and others like him.”
Ramsey called Conner the greatest combat soldier he had ever seen. Troops who remembered him noted Conner’s cool resolve under the most difficult conditions.
Wrote Williams in his journal, “I had such confidence in (Lt.) Conner. I would have followed him anywhere he wanted to go.”
In the years after Conner’s heart attack in 1979, he found a new calling. He listened with concern to stories of soldiers who had not received their veteran’s affairs benefits. Some servicemen struggled with living expenses after they left the service.
Conner and his wife would drive across Clinton County’s 196 square miles of rolling hills and farmland to meet with vets. They extended their travels to 10 neighboring counties. Once a month they would place their paperwork and a suitcase in their Buick sedan and travel to veterans’ homes or meet them at their office in the courthouses. Pauline acted as his secretary, fielding phone calls and helping her husband coordinate his appointments with the veterans in need.
The night episodes continued through the years, Pauline said. And Conner still struggled to sleep on some nights. But helping other veterans, she said, helped him find peace.
“(Assisting veterans) became his life,” Paul said.
But listening to the tales of other soldiers and hearing about their struggles awakened a longing in Conner he thought that he had long buried.
Throughout his four years in the Army, Conner’s concerns rested with his soldiers, never seeking personal glory, but always on the lookout for how he could help, whether scouting the enemy position, or finding ways to help retired vets file their military records. But hearing their stories, Pauline said, she noticed for the first time regret.
That regret became clear in 1996, his wife said.
Chilton, a former Army Green Beret from Wisconsin, wrote a letter to Conner in search of information on his late uncle, Pfc. Gordon Roberts, who was killed after landing at Anzio. Conner, no longer able to speak or write, invited Chilton to his Albany home.
Chilton visited Conner on a fall day in 1996. He sat with Conner in the family living room, and asked him questions about his uncle and the war, while Conner nodded his answers from his wheelchair.
Chilton learned that Conner had indeed served with his uncle, and that Conner had carried his uncle in his last moments to a medical aid station. Conner, reliving a moment from 50 years prior, began to weep.
Pauline suggested that she could sort through her husband’s old war records to search for documentation of Roberts’ service. She carried her husband’s weathered, military green duffel bag out of the living room closet and pulled out old paperwork, records and medals contained inside a cardboard box.
As Chilton skimmed through the pages, his eyes widened. Chilton saw the decorations: the Purple Hearts and Bronze Star and Silver Stars. The Kentucky native had participated in eight major campaigns and had been wounded in each of the countries he toured.
“My God,” a stunned Chilton said to Pauline. “This man should have been awarded the Medal of Honor.”
Chilton, feeling sudden inspiration, asked Pauline and Garlin if he could pursue an application for the medal on Murl’s behalf. Pauline turned to her husband.
“I looked at [Garlin],” she said. “And he was looking at me so straight with tears in his eyes.”
Conner nodded his head yes. After 50 years, he was finally ready to apply for the honor that he had for so long been reluctant to seek.
“He’s my hero,” Pauline said, sitting in the Conner family’s living room, clutching the brown picture frame holding her husband’s black and white service photo. “He always has been.”
Wearing a black blazer and rose-colored blouse, her once-blonde locks have faded into gray. Now 89 years old, her voice wavers when she talks about the life of her late husband. She fondly recalls his humility and his quiet way of voicing his approval.
Finally, she talks about that spring night in 1945, when she and Garlin slipped away from Clinton County in his convertible with nothing but a homemade dress to get married at a courthouse in Rossville, Georgia. They would stop at a neighboring town on the way to Georgia to purchase clothing for Pauline. Pauline said Garlin’s patience and understanding swayed her to marry him after two weeks of dating.
Though their early marriage suffered the occasional bumps, Pauline stood by her husband’s side for more than five decades. Conner suffered a heart attack in 1979, after falling ill riding on the tractor. He underwent open heart surgery later that year, and a second surgery 11 years later.
In the years before his death, Garlin had battled numerous illnesses, including kidney failure, diabetes, and Parkinson’s disease. He suffered a stroke that left him bedridden and no longer able to speak. Pauline took on the role of caretaker, cooking his meals and driving him to his medical appointments. She took a part-time job for additional income.
Conner passed mercifully on a November day in 1998. He was 79.
“The last few years my dad was alive, he wasn’t really alive,” Paul said. “It progressively got worse. I wish I hadn’t have had to see that part of it. But we can’t choose how we’re going to live and how the last days are going to be.”
At the Weldon Haddix Funeral home along Business Route 127 in Albany, hundreds waited in line to view Conner’s remains. In the rectangular, brick building nestled between local businesses on the north side of Albany, farmers, neighbors and veterans paid their respects. Veterans whom Conner had helped approached Pauline to express their gratitude for Conner’s assistance years ago. Neighboring farmers whom Conner helped as president of the Clinton County Farm Bureau also attended. To this day, Pauline said, veterans still greet her.
“They come up and hug me for what I’ve done, for what [Garlin] has done,” Pauline said. “And I always hug them and tell them I love every one of them.”
Conner’s acts left a lasting impression on Ramsey. The two remained in touch for decades through letters and phone calls. Ramsey later retired as a major general and suffered five combat wounds during his time in service. He encouraged Conner to apply for the medal over the years, Pauline said. But each time, Conner declined and the medals and decorations remained mostly untouched inside the duffel bag, in the living room closet.
Ramsey, whose 34-year career spanned three wars, wrote in 2006: “One of the most disappointing regrets of my career is not having the Medal of Honor awarded to the most outstanding soldier I’ve had the privilege of commanding.” The Army medically retired Ramsey in 1974.
A final plea
Chilton continued to press on Conner’s application for the Medal of Honor, writing letters and contacting politicians.
New evidence had been uncovered by Congressman Ed Whitfield’s office in the National Archives in Washington, including three eyewitness accounts written by fellow soldiers who fought on the front lines with Conner. The three affidavits painted in vivid detail accounts of Conner’s acts in January 1945. But even the affidavits would not be enough.
The Army Board for Correction of Military Records rejected Chilton’s original application for Conner’s eligibility for the medal. Haddix assembled a legal team, headed by Dennis Shepherd of the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs as lead trial counsel, and included Luther Conner, who also serves as the Conner family’s lawyer, to begin work on a lawsuit which was filed in federal court. That lawsuit would obtain a ruling ordering the Board to grant Pauline a new hearing and to consider the new evidence.
In 2014, U.S. District Judge Thomas Russell ruled that the statute of limitations to correct Conner’s military record had expired and that the family could no longer continue to seek the award.
After the judge dismissed Pauline’s case in 2014, she said she had lost hope. She returned to Albany and resigned herself to the idea that her husband’s decorated service record would remain as it was, without the addition of the honor that Conner’s family and friends felt he deserved. Despite the backing of the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs, several generals and Congressman Ed Whitfield, Conner’s chances for the Medal dimmed.
But then, on March 2, 2015, Conner’s case reached a turning point at the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. During the appeal for Conner’s Medal of Honor bid, Assistant U.S. Attorney Candace Hill was assigned to represent the government’s stance against Conner’s case. For 15 minutes, Hill defended the Army’s previous stance during the proceedings, saying the case should be left alone.
But then, in a closing moment of abject candor, Hill revealed her true feelings.
Hill broke into tears, as she discussed her father’s service as an officer in the same unit as Conner during World War II. She said her father suffered a severe leg injury on Jan. 25, 1945, one day after Conner’s heroic acts.
“For all I know,” she said. “Garlin Conner may have … helped save his life.”
Hill’s words, according to an Associated Press report, convinced the panel to submit Conner’s case to a federal mediator. The mediator then directed the ABCMR to grant a new hearing and to consider all evidence, including the recently discovered eyewitness accounts. The following October, the Board granted “full relief” to Pauline’s request to upgrade Conner’s Distinguished Service Cross to the Medal of Honor.
Still, Conner’s bid for the medal needed further approval from the Secretary of the Army, the Secretary of Defense, and the president.
Last March, Pauline received a call from a military officer at the Pentagon who told her to expect an important phone call from a high-ranking DOD official regarding her husband. Could this be the phone call she had been waiting for? It must be a trick, Pauline thought, and she called Luther Conner, the family’s attorney, to confirm its validity. When Luther gave his assurances, Pauline still asked Luther, and his wife Susan, to sit with her for the important call.
The following Monday the phone rang.
“Is this Lyda Conner?” asked a man with a gruff, New York accent.
“I go by Pauline,” she said.
“You sound just like an old country gal,” the man said.
“I am,” Pauline said, soon realizing the caller was the president.
“It’s a beautiful place down there where you live,” President Trump said.
“Yes it is,” Pauline said, as she sat in the family’s tidy living room, amid family photos of Conner, her son, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Outside, redbirds chirped in the cool spring air.
“You are the widow of Lieutenant Garlin Conner?” Trump asked.
“I am,” she confirmed.
After a brief exchange of pleasantries, Trump said, “Well I’ve got some good news for you. He has a wonderful military record — one of the best I’ve ever seen. I am going to award him the Medal of Honor.”
The news soon spread to the rest of the Conner family, Conner’s legal team and Clinton County’s residents. Chilton, who spent much of his own time and money on Conner’s journey, could breathe a sigh of relief. Chilton traveled across the country in his quest to bring the Medal of Honor to the Conner family. He’d conducted dozens of interviews with former veterans who knew Conner. Nearly all have since passed. Chilton also penned what he said could be hundreds of hand-written letters to congressmen and to the Army.
A 22-year quest for a man who left everything on the battlefield had finally ended. Conner will be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in a White House ceremony June 26.
“It gets you kind of numb, you know?” Chilton said. “It sinks in and you understand it. You realize how long you’ve been after it and how long you’ve been doing it. I was just kind of numb … I felt good for him. I felt good for his wife; she suffered through all this stuff. I felt good for (Paul). They’ll all know this forever: (he’s) a hero.”
Pauline was asked what she thought her husband would say if he was still alive. Pauline thought for a moment. And she recalled how her husband might not want the honor, and might brush it aside once more. He might defer credit to the men he fought alongside. But Pauline said she sensed her husband’s attitude toward the honor had changed during his waning years. She remembered his regret in the 1996 meeting with Chilton.
Maybe, Conner might just tip his cap, and smile.
“More than anything I miss him,” Pauline said wistfully. “And I wish he was here so he could go get the Medal himself. Because I think he would have been proud of it. I know he would have.”
“I always kept thinking he didn’t want it in his younger days. And he didn’t really. … When he got older, he wished he had.”
The story of Garlin Conner doesn’t lie in his heroic acts or in his courage under the grimmest of odds. His family says it lies in his unending desire to help others, whether guiding soldiers on the battlefields of Western Europe, or helping veterans in the rolling hills of Clinton County, Kentucky.
Chilton, a military veteran of 20 years, traveled the world with both the U.S. Army and the Israeli Army during Desert Storm. Perhaps the Wisconsin resident put it best.
“I’ve traveled a lot and I’ve seen a lot,” Chilton said. “But I’ve never met anyone like Garlin Conner.”
Editor’s note: Garlin Murl Conner will be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in a ceremony at the White House June 26, 2018. President Trump will present the Medal to Conner’s widow, Pauline, at the ceremony.
The winter of 1777 was disastrous. The British had successfully retaken many key locations in the 13 colonies and General Washington’s men were left out in the cold of Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. Morale was at an all-time low and conditions were so poor, in fact, that many troops reportedly had to eat their boots just to stay alive. No aid was expected to arrive for the Americans but the British reinforcements had landed. It’s no exaggeration to say that, in that moment, one cold breeze could have blown out the flames of revolution.
Then, in February, 1778, a Prussian nobleman by the name of Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben arrived. He set aside his lavish lifestyle to stand next to his good friend, George Washington, and transform a ragtag group of farmers and hunters into the world’s premier fighting force.
With his guidance, the troops kept the gears turning. He taught them administrative techniques, like proper bookkeeping and how to maintain hygiene standards. But his lessons went far beyond logistics: von Steuben also taught the troops the proper technique for bayonet charges and how to swear in seven different languages. He was, in essence, the U.S. Army’s first drill sergeant.
The troops came out of Valley Forge far stronger and more prepared for war. Their victory at Stony Point, NY was credited almost entirely to von Steuben’s techniques. He then transcribed his teachings into a book, Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States, better known as, simply, the “Blue Book.” It became the Army’s first set of regulations — and many of the guidelines therein are still upheld today.
Given the hours you spend prepping your dress blues, there’s no way in hell you’d bring it to a desert — or do anything other than stand there for inspection.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Daniel Schroeder)
Different uniforms for officer, NCOs, and troops
This was the very first regulation established by the ‘Blue Book.’ In the early days of the revolution, there was no real way to tell who outranked who at a glance. All uniforms were pieced together by volunteer patriots, so there was no way to immediately tell who was an officer, a non-commissioned officer, or solider. von Steuben’s regulations called for uniforms that were clear indicators of rank.
Troops today still follow this regulation to a T when it comes to the dress uniform — albeit without the swords.
The rifle twirling is, however, entirely a recent officer thing.
(Department of Defense photo by Terrence Bell)
If there was one lasting mark left on the Army by von Steuben, it was the importance of drill and ceremony. Much of the Blue Book is dedicated to instructing soldiers on proper marching techniques, the proper steps that you should take, and how to present your arms to your chain of command.
Despite the protests of nearly every lower enlisted, the Army has spent days upon days practicing on the parade field since its inception — and will continue to do so well into the future.
If you thought troops back then could get by without hospital corners on their bed, think again!
(U.S. Navy photo by Chief Petty Officer Susan Krawczyk)
One of the most important things von Steuben did while in Valley Forge was teach everyone a few extremely simple ways to prevent troops from dying very preventable, outside-of-combat deaths. A rule as simple as, “don’t dig your open-air latrine right next to where the cooks prepare meals” (p. 46) was mind-blowing to soldiers back then.
But the lessons run deeper than that. Even police calls and how to properly care for your bedding (p. 45) are directly mentioned in the book.
While there arestillpunishments in place for negligencetoday, the armorer would be paying far more than for a lost rifle.
(U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa)
Accountability of arms and ammo
No one likes doing paperwork in the military (or anywhere else) but it has to be done. Back then, simple accounting was paramount. As you can imagine, it was good for the chain of command to actually know how many rifles and rounds of ammunition each platoon had at their disposal.
While the book mostly focuses on how to do things, this is one of the few instances in which he specifically states that the quartermaster should be punished for not doing their job (p. 62). According to the Blue Book, punishments include confinement and forfeiture of pay and allowances until whatever is lost is recouped.
Once given medical attention, a troop would be giving off-time until they’re better — just like today.
(U.S. Army photo by Robert Shields)
Sending troops to sick call
The most humane thing a leader can do is allow their troops to be nursed back to full health when they’re not at fighting strength. The logic here is pretty sound. If your troops aren’t dying, they’ll fight harder. If they fight harder, America wins. So, it’s your job, as a leader, to make sure your troops aren’t dying.
According to the Blue Book, NCOs should always check in on their sick and wounded and give a report to the commander. This is why, today, squad leaders report to the first sergeant during morning role call, giving them an idea of anyone who needs to get sent to sick call.
“No one is more professional than I” still has a better ring to it, though.
(U.S. Army National Guard photo by Capt. Maria Mengrone)
NCOs should lead from the front
“It being on the non-commissioned officer that the discipline and order of a company in a great measure depend, they cannot be too circumspect in their behavior towards the men, by treating them with mildness, and at the same time, obliging everyone to do his duty.” (p. 77)
This was von Steuben’s way of saying that the NCOs really are the backbone of the Army.
According to von Steuben, NCOs “should teach the soldiers of their squad” (p. 78). They must know everything about what it means to be a soldier and motivate others while setting a proper, perfect example. They must care for the soldiers while still completing the duties of a soldier. They must be the lookout while constantly looking in. Today, these are the qualities exhibited by the best NCOs.
They probably didn’t think we’d have radios back then…
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Thomas Duval)
The soldier’s general orders
Today, each soldier of the Army has their general orders when it comes to guard/sentinel duty. von Steuben’s rules run are almost exactly the same:
Guard everything within the limits of your post and only quit your post when properly relieved? Check.
Obey your special orders and perform your duties in a military manner? Check.
Report all violations of your special orders, emergencies, and anything not covered in your instructions to the commander of the relief? Kinda check… the Blue Book just says to sound an alarm, but you get the gist.
After the bombing, Japanese-Americans lived under extreme scrutiny.
Two months after the deadly air raid, Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 which called for the relocation of more than 110,000 Japanese men, women, and children (many of whom were American citizens) into internment camps for fear of terrorism.
With 10 internment camps set up across the country, many Japanese-Americans who served in the military had to visit their detained families through barbed wired fences while under the constant supervision of armed sentries.
“It’s kind of a strange feeling that here I was fighting for a country and my parents and brother and sisters were in a friendly country behind barbed wires,” Jimmie Kanaya remembers. “I think that gave us more reason to fight for our country; we had reason to go back and prove that we are loyal.”
Many detained Japanese men volunteered to join the military to prove their patriotism to America.
A high angle of Puyallup fairgrounds in western Washington that was converted into an internment camp. (Source: Densho/YouTube/Screenshot)
At the camps, large families were forced to live in filthy hovels that just a few weeks prior housed pigs, cows, and other livestock.
In 1944, Roosevelt rescinded his executive order, and the camp’s residents were allowed to return to their homes.
Just days after the attack on Fort Sumter in 1861, Peter Conover Hains graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. At a time when officers and cadets were deserting the U.S. military in favor of serving their home states, especially those who seceded from the Union, this Philadelphia native stayed put — and the U.S. Army would get their investment back in spades.
After 26 of his 57 classmates left to join the Confederacy, Hains became an artillery officer, firing off the first shot of the Battle of Bull Run. There, he fought bravely, even though the Union Army lost terribly. After as many as 30 smaller combat engagements, he eventually found himself in the Army Corps of Engineers and the United States would never be the same.
During the 1863 Siege of Vicksburg, the Union’s Chief Engineer fell ill and was unable to fulfill his duties. So, the responsibility shifted to then-lieutenant Hains. The engineering at Vicksburg would be crucial to the Union victory, so there could be no mistakes. The 12-mile ring of fortifications and entrenchments around the city kept the 33,000 Confederate defenders bottled up and isolated from the outside world. The surrender of Vicksburg, after a 40-days-long siege, along with the Confederate defeat at Gettysburg sounded the death knell for the Confederacy.
Grant promoted Hains to captain for his work.
In the postwar years, he was appointed Engineer Secretary of the U.S. Lighthouse Board and his constructions were so sound that many still stand to this day, undisturbed by rising sea levels or tropical storms. He also fixed the foul-smelling swamp that was Washington, D.C. by designing and constructing the Tidal Basin there, a sort of man-made reservoir that flushes out to the Washington Channel.
Still in the Army by the outbreak of the Spanish-American War in 1898, he served as a brigadier general of volunteers, but no known record of deploying to fight exists. Before and after the Spanish-American War, Hains served on the Nicaragua Canal Commission and was responsible for successfully arguing that such a canal should be built in Panama.
He retired from the Army in 1904 — but the Army wasn’t done with him. World War I broke out for the United States and in September, 1917, Peter Conover Hains was recalled to active duty one last time. For a full year, he managed the structural defenses of Norfolk Harbor and was the district’s Chief Engineer. At age 76, he was the oldest officer in uniform.
His sons and their sons all continued Hains’ military tradition, attending West Point and serving on active duty. He, his sons, and his grandson are all interred in Arlington National Cemetery.
Fleet Admiral Ernest King was one of the greatest military minds of his generation, rising to command the entire Navy fleet after the attacks on Pearl Harbor and ensuring that every theater of the war had its needed material, manpower, and great thinkers throughout World War II.
Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King, U. S. Navy, arrives at his quarters and salutes a soldier during the Potsdam Conference in 1945.
(U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)
Let’s start with his buddyf*ckery that actually affected the war. As mentioned above, King had an issue with the intelligence genius behind the Navy’s Midway success.
The problem came during the buildup to the battle. King’s staff briefed him that the most likely Japanese course of action was an attack on the U.S. West Coast and the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. Admiral Chester Nimitz’s staff intercepted and decoded Japanese radio transmissions that indicated an attack near Midway Island.
Both intelligence sections were actually correct. The Japanese did attack the Aleutian Islands in June, 1942, and occupy a few of them, but it was a relatively small and inconsequential action next to the massive attack at Midway that same week.
Captain Joseph J. Rochefort led the team that cracked Japan’s naval code, then prioritized which messages to translate first, and then took the collected information to paint a clear picture of the coming attack at Midway in 1942. He was rewarded by being shipped off to pasture.
Nimitz pressured King into giving him the needed ships for a defense at Midway, staged one of the most decisive engagements of the war, crippled the Japanese Navy, and then put in the top intelligence officer for a Distinguished Service Medal.
Seems well-earned, right? Captain Joseph J. Rochefort had led the team that cracked the Japanese code, then used intelligence garnered from that break to prepare the fleet for a decisive engagement that led to a massive American victory.
King didn’t think so. He summarily denied the award and then transferred Rochefort out of Nimitz’s staff and into a lesser position even though Nimitz begged him not to.
The Japanese ship Mikuma slowly sinks during the Battle of Midway in 1942.
But King didn’t limit his Blue Falcon practices to the official realm. He also slept with the wives of his subordinates, and often sexually harassed them. Women knew not to sit next to him at official functions because he had a tendency to let his hands wander under the table.
One officer, Captain Paul Pihl, was friends with King. He and his wife, Charlotte Pihl, would regularly attend parties with him. King reportedly held his own parties with Charlotte, going to the Pihls’ farmhouse when Paul was away at sea. This happened so frequently that King’s wife, Mattie, knew to call the Pihl house if she couldn’t find her husband at the office.
But most subordinate officers were more familiar and resentful of King’s notoriety for enforcing the rules against his own subordinates while violating them himself. While there are plenty of examples of this from ship life and day-to-day operations, it’s perhaps most notable in King’s drinking.
King was in the service during Prohibition, and he encouraged officers around and beneath him to strictly follow the rules, except when he wanted to get drunk. He was known to carry a flask with him and doled out drinks with it when he wanted to party, even if he was pouring for people whom he would otherwise punish for drinking.
He even encouraged the commandant of his flight school to enforce prohibition against enlisted men and young officers while simultaneously joining an officers club known for its rancorous and alcohol-fueled parties.
All-in-all, not the best example or steadiest hand at the wheel.
Admiral Ernest King onboard the USS Augusta (CA-31) with Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox during a visit to Bermuda in September 1941.
That’s because, for his many flaws, he was also a brilliant tactician, strategist, and organizer. He predicted the rise of submarine warfare and naval aviation, attending and graduating both Navy schools, while the rest of his contemporaries were focused on battleships.
And he was known for doing what needed to be done, even if he was a jerk while doing so. When he was promoted to Chief of Naval operations over eight more senior admirals after Pearl Harbor. Legend has it that a reporter asked why he thought President Franklin D. Roosevelt had picked him, and King responded, “when the shooting starts, they have to send for the sons of bitches.”
As Roosevelt might have put it, “He’s a SOB, but he’s our SOB.”
While serving as a sergeant of an American-Vietnamese platoon, Howard embarked on a rescue mission for a missing American soldiers thought to be deep in enemy territory.
During the mission, Howard’s platoon came under massive attack by a large enemy force. As allied forces were wounded all around him, Howard managed to rally his men and continue engaging the enemy for nearly four hours.
Eventually, their efforts would pay off as they successfully fought off the aggressive enemy.
Although severely injured himself, Howard oversaw and accounted for every man before leaving the battlespace.
During his time “in-country,” Howard was wounded 14 times throughout his 54 months serving in the Vietnam War.
For his heroic actions on the rescue mission, Howard was awarded the Medal of Honor from President Richard Nixon on Mar. 2, 1971.
Howard’s military awards include two Distinguished Service Crosses, a Silver Star, the Defense Superior Service Medal, four awards of the Legion of Merit, four Bronze Star Medals, and eight Purple Hearts, making him one of the most decorated soldiers in American history.
Robert Howard receiving his Medal of Honor at the White House from former President Richard Nixon. (Image from Pinterest)
After 36 years of military service, Howard retired in 1992 at the well-respected rank of colonel. Sadly, he passed away in December of 2009, but his legacy will on forever.
Born Jacob Kurtzberg, the most influential comic book artist known to the world as Jack Kirby penned many of the most beloved superheros in today’s society.
The young Kirby found his calling at then Timely Comics, later known as Marvel Comics, by drawing in superheros. He and Joe Simon created a new patriotic hero and drew the iconic cover to what will be synonymous with comics in World War II. Captain America knocking the Hell out of Adolf Hitler in March 1941.
Duty called Kirby into the U.S. Army on June 7, 1942. He had created an inventory to be published in part of his absence, kissed his wife goodbye, and headed to Camp Stewart for Basic Training.
Being a small Jewish kid from New York, he had met people from across the country. People who had never traveled outside their family farm, Texans who never rode a horse, and everyone from every corner of the country. He did encounter antisemitism, but he credits working and living together as the moment that opened their eyes to how diverse the country really is.
His unit, the Fifth Infantry Division, landed in Liverpool where he saw the devastation of the German Stukas. He was now ready to land on Omaha Beach ten days after D-Day.
And ready for his Marvel co-creator, Stan Lee, to give one of his best Cameos.General Patton got word that his unit was killed and arrived personally with replacements. Patton was livid when he learned that the outfit had just arrived just fine. The mix-up came about because of an error in the maps, so Kirby’s Lieutenant saw to correcting it. His lieutenant learned his soldier drew Captain America and many other comics and assigned Private Kirby the unenviable task of being a scout to draw the maps.
Kirby would create new maps or draw on existing maps locations of enemy and friendly activity. His markings of Axis’ 88 anti-armor cannons were used to clear the way for troops.
Kirby’s unit crossed much of Northern France and took heavy casualties. Sketching in a notepad was the only thing that could keep his nerves intact while he mapped out enemy locations. His unit even liberated a remote factory, turned concentration camp. This was one of the first provable concentration camps the U.S. came across.
His maps would play a crucial role in the Battle of Metz, which he also personally fought in. Frozen by Himmler’s Panzers, he still fought them, referring to himself as a “Human Road Block.”
It was the unforgiving winter that sent him home. His feet had become purple with jungle rot and frostbite. It was so bad that he was rushed back to Paris and the doctors considered amputation. He was discharged in 1945, but not before being awarded a Combat Infantryman Badge and Bronze Star for all that he did in Europe.
Say what you want about President Nixon, the man knew what the greatest asset in the U.S. military was – the people who served. As a veteran himself, he could appreciate what it was like to be in the military during wartime. What Nixon couldn’t know as a vet was what it was like to be captured and tortured by the enemy. As Commander-In-Chief during the Vietnam War, he knew exactly how many Americans were held captive.
When they came home, he showed his appreciation in style.
President Richard Nixon and Pat Nixon on stage at the White House Dinner for the American Prisoners of War (POW) who were returned by the North Vietnamese government. On stage with President Nixon and Mrs. Nixon are singer Vic Damone, comedian-actor Bob Hope, “God Bless America” songwriter Irving Berlin, and singer-actor-dancer Sammy Davis, Jr.
It was three months after the repatriation of American POWs from North Vietnam that a huge tent was erected on the back lawn of the White House. The President and the First Lady were about to throw the largest White House dinner in the history of the American Republic. The guests of honor were every single Vietnam POW who just came home, more than 590, 34 of which couldn’t make it due to continued treatment. Along with them came a star-studded guest list that included John Wayne, Bob Hope, and Jimmy Stewart.
“President Nixon made us feel like we were the stars,” said retired Air Force Col. Robert Certain. “President Nixon is one of our heroes.” Nixon also took the time to meet every single of the POWs.”
“He was a hero to us. He will always be revered by us as a group because he got us home,” said retired Marine Corps Capt. Orson Swindle, who spent more than six years in a Hanoi prison camp.
Some 40 years later, the same POWs re-gathered for a reunion at the Richard Nixon Memorial Library in Yorba Linda, Calif. They brought their families along to celebrate the anniversary of their release as well as the unforgettable dinner the President threw for them, taking them from eating with their hands in a cell to eating on White House china and shaking hands with the stars.
As of the 2013 reunion, the 1973 dinner was still the largest dinner ever held at the White House.
First Lady Pat Nixon greets touring POW families during the evening events.
The POWs were also given unfettered access to areas of the White House normally off-limits to the public. They were able to tour the historic mansion without guides or maps. One pair of veterans even told ABC news they accidentally walked into President Nixon’s private study, with the man himself seated at its desk. He told them it was alright and he would be out to greet them in a minute.
But the President could not stay up all night with the troops and retired before the evening was over, ordering the staff to let everyone stay until they wanted to go. But before leaving he told the POWs:
“I have spoken to many distinguished audiences. I can say to you today that this is the most distinguished group I have ever addressed, and I have never been prouder than I am at this moment to address this group.”
Warner Brothers will showcase the courage and will of the comic book hero “Wonder Woman” this weekend in her big screen debut.
But it might be worth taking a look at the military exploits of Milunka Savic — a real-life Wonder Woman. Savic fought in both Balkan Wars and World War I to become the most-decorated woman of military history.
Savic took her brother’s place to fight for Serbia in 1912, cut her hair and took his name. She earned the rank of corporal and was shot in the chest at the Battle of Bregalnica. It was only during treatment that physicians discovered that she was a woman.
That per her commanding officer into a bit of a predicament — punish such a skilled soldier or risk this young woman’s life. They sent her to a nursing unit instead. She stood at attention requesting to return to her old infantry regiment. The commander said he would think about it and get back to her with an answer.
Savic simply stood at attention until they allowed her to serve in the Infantry.
Soon after, Austro-Hungarian troops invaded her homeland, beginning World War I.
Vastly outnumbered at the Battle of Kolubara, Savic entered no-man’s land throwing a bunch of grenades then jumped into an enemy trench and took 20 Austro-Hungarian soldiers prisoner — all by herself.
For her valor, she earned the highest honor of the Kingdom of Serbia — The Order of Karadorde’s Star with Swords. She did the same thing in later battles, capturing 23 Bulgarian troops.
Savic was wounded seven more times in various skirmishes. Few in numbers, her unit continued the fight under the French Army where she fought in Tunisia and Greece. In one instance, a French Officer refused to believe that a woman could be a capable fighter.
He placed a bottle of cognac 40 meters away. If she could hit it, another 19 bottles were for her. She proved him wrong with one shot.
Savic’s story lives on in Serbia as a true heroine. Her military honors include two Orders of Karadorde’s Star with Swords, two French Legions of Honor, Britain’s Order of St. Michael and St. George, and she is the only woman to be awarded the Croix de Guerre — The French Cross of War.